вторник, 18 ноября 2014 г.

Change?

It's one of those commonplaces so often repeated and cherished among Christians that we all believe it: God has changed my life. 

I remember the testimony of a young Christian who had come to faith through the popular Alpha course. When asked by our pastor what exactly had changed, he simply answered, "Everything."

Twenty plus years later and now it's me who's the pastor. And I don't think it is as black-and-white or as simple as maybe that young Christian made out.

I absolutely believe, not just as an intellectual conviction, but as an observed reality that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ by his Spirit moulds and shapes and transforms personalities and relationships, families and churches. Christians are different. We do have plenty of weaknesses, some of them even exacerbated by aspects of faith and practice. But if I lump together all the thousands of Christians I have met and interacted with over the last 20+ years there is something shared, something all of us have in common which I can only trace to one thing - or rather to one person: Jesus. (Sorry if that sounds trite or sentimental.)

I also believe that such transformation is not instantaneous, nor automatic, nor immediately verifiable. To an extent it can be imitated (faked). In some circumstances it can be learnt. There are plenty of cases where people have genuinely strived towards an ideal of transformation only to find that good intentions are not sufficiently motivating to 'keep it up'. In many cases the old person has never really gone away or been changed. It just takes the right set of circumstances for the sheep's clothing to become detached from the inner wolf. And people revert to type.

So what is it that makes genuine, lasting Christian transformation? What is it that actually transforms a personality so they actually become different, not just trying really hard to be someone who ultimately they are not?

1. I have already said it: Jesus. The Lord Jesus Christ of the gospels. The unique, inimitable, untamable, ever-merciful Saviour of the epistles. The reiging Lamb of the Apocalypse. Lasting Christian transformation is Christlikeness, contact with Jesus 'rubbing off' on someone. Or, in Jesus' words, it is the lasting fruit of those who abide in Him, the True Vine.

2. The gospel. Not the gospel is something other than Jesus. But the gospel in the sense of the core message of Jesus and the Bible which declares the utter failure of the human race in its moral and spiritual endeavour and the invincible mercy of God in doing for us in the person of Jesus what we could not do for ourselves. Humbly relinquishing all pretence and claims before God and gladly receiving the gift of acceptance, renewal, life - that is where the Christian life starts... and where it continues if we are genuinely to grow and progress. The forgiven debtor, the prisoner released on amnesty, the defeated foe accepted onto the winning side. It is in these gospel capacities that we are compelled to action, transformed from the inside out. If you have 'got over' that feeling, then you have stopped growing and changing.

3. Not just learned behaviour or in-group respectability, but a realignment of heart. The person we are, what we are driven by, where our heart wanders when no-one is looking. Means of grace, disciplines and so on are necessary but not sufficient. This can only be the work of the Holy Spirit.

4. Hour-by-hour choices and habits. What we really value is displayed not even by the positive choices we make, but what we say No to. It is human nature to take every opportunity. And why would you turn down the Good unless in the interests of the Better? Real change is reinforced by choices: big choices, but also everyday choices and their accumulated force is to form deep-seated, character-forming habits. When I was coming to faith some words from a preacher challenged me: you haven't proven Jesus is your Lord until you want one thing and he wants another - and you choose His way.   

5. Testing. Our talk of suffering in the Christian life it is often far too generalised. We may all see the merits of suffering, we just don't want it to hurt. The specific trials and difficulties which we face - failures, disappointments, injury, accident, pain, loss, temptation - these are the Fatherly blows discipling the sons whom he loves. And like nothing else they pressure out of us the real motives of our hearts and purify us as in furnace. We can all tell - in ourselves and in others - the difference between a truth understood and a truth undergone. Martin Luther well described the three qualities of a theologian as prayer, reflection and Anfechtung (spiritual battle).

6. Time. Someone has said that the only Christian grace which cannot be imitated is perseverance. Probably even perseverance can be imitated in the sense that we can conceal faults and inconsistencies to the grave. But time sifts much of the wheat from the tares. Jesus spoke of lasting fruit; he also taught about the temporary fruit of the seed which fell in the shallow soil and in the stony ground. Only time showed the difference.

These are some of my thoughts about change. I may have others, but I thought I might share what I have.   

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